Life in the… Slow Lane?

As the month of September comes to a close, I am finding myself reflecting a bit on the past few weeks. How in just a short amount of time, my mind and body pulled a full 180 and gave me a slap in the face — begging me to slow down, get some rest, and take a break. I was very stubborn at truly listening to those pleas, but slowly (very slowly) I think I’m getting better at it.

Funny enough, September is SELF CARE month… and boy did my self need some serious tender love and care.

A much needed reminder from one of my favorite children’s book authors, Peter H. Reynolds. “So Few of Me” is a story he wrote to remind his readers to slow down and give themselves recharge time.

I’ve been struggling with some health issues for quite a while now (**inserting a necessary disclaimer here that these are non-COVID related issues**), but up until recently, I continued to sweep them under the rug. Why? Because no young twenty-something year old wants to be told that their youthful health has been jeopardized. It’s a hard thing to accept. But rather than listen to the early warning signs that were being given to me by a fatigued and overworked body (and mind!), I continued to press on – putting on a brave face, grinding my teeth, and not doing the right things to tend to my rapidly declining health. The problem with chronic illness and pain is that it doesn’t really get better. You only get better at managing it.

But everything came to a screeching halt when my stubbornness and determination to suppress reality got the best of me. What should have been a simple 3 hour car trip to my childhood home for my birthday weekend, ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back… and what broke my back.

I’ve had a herniated disc in three spots on my lumbar spine for roughly 3-ish years now (the origin of this injury is a whole separate mystery itself… still puzzling the minds of several doctors and specialists, near and far). Like I hinted at above, I tended to ignore the severity of the problem and was determined that noninvasive treatments would solve my situation. Well… lots of physical therapy, chiropractic treatments, acupuncture sessions and steroid injections later and I’m still to this day quite a hot mess. I used to completely write doctors off who would ask “do you have any numbness or tingling in your feet?” as if that was the craziest question on the planet – “OF COURSE I DON’T, MY FEET WORK FINE!” I’d think. Ah but lo and behold… here I am as a young lady in her twenties with zero sensation in my left foot for about 75% of the time and at constant war with the “pins and needles” that perpetually live in my toes.

So back to the 3 hour car trip. A key thing to note about herniated discs: sitting for long periods of time is awful. The worst possible pain you can imagine, just pressing and pressing on your nerves and muscles, usually leading to a massive Charlie horse and a locked up spine. I knew and was quite familiar with all of this before getting into my car for a lengthy road trip, but again… my stubborn, determined self was set on going at it alone and being “strong enough” to avoid having to ask for help (DUMB!).

By 20 minutes into the drive, I knew for certain that I’d made a mistake. That my body had seriously deteriorated since my last attempt at a long-haul car trip and I shouldn’t push myself. But push I did. I popped open a bottle of Advil, chugged down those pain meds, and turned my radio way up so as to drown out the voice in my head telling me to just stop, turn around, and reconsider asking for help.

And because I pushed my physical capabilities, I paid the price. 🙂

3 hours turned into 5 hours… punctuated by many many “stretching” pitstops (i.e. crawling into the backseat of my car to hold back some dramatic tears and to give my aching back some form of a break). But I eventually arrived at my destination… exhausted, in pain, and fully coming to grips with the stupid stupid decision I just made.

A horizontal birthday celebration.

I spent the next several weeks (which included my actual birthday) primarily horizontal. If I wasn’t laying down, I was attempting some sad excuse for a hobble/walk/foot drag type of maneuver to get to the bathroom or kitchen. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t walk, couldn’t sit… I was miserable and I finally broke down.

The emotional side of being constantly in pain is a difficult thing to explain. I’m a dramatic individual by nature… but having back pain and sciatica caused by herniated spinal discs is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s debilitating. And I’d finally had enough. In a moment of frustrated weakness, I laid down in the middle of the kitchen with tears in my eyes, finally admitting to my parents (and to myself) how much pain I was in and how I needed serious help. In the span of just a few weeks, I saw so many parts of myself start to shut down. Because I was so stressed out about the state of my back, I worked my body and mind into a frenzy… I broke out in hives as my immune system went haywire, eventually leading to several antibiotics that morphed into a more serious emergency round of steroids to combat the angioedema that truly wiped me on my ass. There was (and honestly still is) a lot going on. But as they have done time and time again, my family and friends offered me help and patience even when it was really hard to do so.

After a whole slew of doctors appointments, x-rays, MRIs, specialist referrals and more, I was told spinal surgery was the best option for someone in my state. Well, shit. Spinal surgery? Spinal surgery!? Now that’s a scary thing to face. But, I’ll be honest… hearing that my excruciating pain could go away with this procedure? I was thrilled. Never in my life did I think I’d be thrilled to have back surgery. But here we are.

And this is where I am now. Still in the middle of it. I have some semblance of a game plan lined up for the first time in what feels like forever. And I finally allowed myself to stop for long enough to listen, analyze, and ask for help. It’s not easy and I’m still struggling, as this battle is ongoing and yet to be won, but for now I will eagerly look forward to my spinal operation in the coming weeks and continue to live life… in the slow lane. Because my body needs it. And deserves it too.

Moral of the story? Listen to your body. Trust the signs that it shows you and understand that taking a break is not weak, but rather one of the strongest things you can do for yourself and for your wellbeing.

Oh and ask for help. It’s hard. But do it.

• • •

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